So Far, Yet So Close

The 2007 conference of the International Asscociation of Music Information Centres is about to start its second day of sessions here in Wellington, New Zealand where it’s already Wednesday morning. But before all the official activities began, I tricked myself out of jetlag by, what else, wandering through the seemingly myriad book and record shops around town.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the shops here and the ones back home is how they all seem to separate out nationally specific material into its own section. There’s a specific NZ literature section and a specific NZ music section, too. So it’s a great way to find the local stuff.

But when it comes to that problematically named genre, contemporary classical music, it’s been catch-as-catch-can in most of the shops here. While certain important names surface from time to time—e.g. John Psathas, Helen Fisher, Douglas Lilburn (who was sort of an NZ Copland), it’s predominantly typical standard repertoire stuff. There is a smattering of Americans, luckily: I saw Cage, Carter, Reich, Riley, Glass, John Adams, and tons of Naxos CDs. But trying to find contemporary music from nearby countries, like Australia, seems more difficult than finding Canadian composers in the United States.

Wellington’s local opera company has posters all around town for its new production of…Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. And most references to local music in newspapers, guidebooks, and even the major local museum reference either the traditional or more recent folksongs of the indigenous Maori and contemporary pop.

Yet from what I’ve been able to discern, there is quite a lot of contemporary classical music activity going on here: an active New Zealand Music Centre, tons of composers, many recordings (if you can track them down), plus a fantastic new music ensemble named Stroma, which performed a concert last night of works submitted from various IAMIC member music centers (including a work by our own Gabriela Lena Frank, who is here with us as well). There is so much going on, even if it is not quite on the radar of the general public. Sound familiar?

Then again, I’ve never experienced anything quite like the Maori welcoming that opened the conference yesterday. When’s the last time a music conference in America included a Native American salutation?

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